LGBTI activists slam draft religious discrimination bill

A rally against the federal government's proposed religious discrimination bill, in Sydney on August 3. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

LGBTI activists have slammed the federal Coalition government’s draft religious discrimination bill and vowed to step up protests.

Commenting on the draft that was released on August 29 , marriage equality campaigner Ali Hogg said: “Far from the ‘cautious approach’ flagged earlier by the government, these bills entrench and extend existing rights to discriminate against the LGBTI+ community.”

Hogg, together with Safe Schools co-founder Roz Ward, has initiated a rally in Melbourne against the proposed bill, which will be held on August 31.

“We encourage everyone who can to join us on Saturday to say that nobody should be given the right to discriminate, and that we will continue to fight against homophobia and transphobia in all forms,” Hogg said.

While the bill states that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity continues to be regulated by the Sex Discrimination Act”, activists have pointed out this act already includes exemptions for religious bodies and educational establishments to “discriminate on the basis of certain attributes”.

Hogg said: “It is unacceptable that it will restrict access to government-funded services for LGBTI+ people and women, including welfare and reproductive health services, by allowing ‘conscientious objections’ by practitioners and institutions on religious grounds.”

Ward added that, under the proposed bill, “religious schools will retain the right to expel LGBTI+ students or refuse to employ LGBTI+ teachers.”

This is despite a 2018 YouGov Galaxy Poll that found about 80% of people oppose the so-called “freedom” of religious schools to exclude LGBTI students and staff.

The creation of a Freedom of Religion Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, along with rejecting calls from Labor and the community for an LGBTI+ Commissioner, is a further signal that the government is seeking to appease the religious right.

More than 20 religious bodies have been included in discussions, but there has been no formal consultation with LGBTI+ organisations on the bill to date.

[LGBTI organisations, activists and supporters are urged to join the rally outside the State Library of Victoria on August 31, 1pm.]

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